Personal names appear to play an important role in a society.
Most Muslims who come from the Middle East tend to use or already have Arabic or Islamic names, which may have roots in the Arabic language.
However, there’s a growing number of Muslims in the Western world, who either reverted to Islam or were born there to Muslim parents and have English names. They do not have to change their names to Middle-Eastern names, because they represent their father’s or family name.
“..Call them by [the names of] their fathers; it is more just in the sight of Allah” (Quran, 33:5).
Given that Muslims living in the West are overwhelmed and challenged by issues such as Islamophobia, lack of employment, poverty and access to education due to factors beyond their control (i.e. effects of colonialisation, excessive capitalism and non-ethical, selfish and immoral behaviour of individuals), a peaceful jihad (struggle) may arise within every Muslim living in the Western world to co-exist with other religious faiths. As a Muslim minority group this approach may result in presenting a beneficial, even a more balanced and fair view of Islam.
As Muslims, we rely on divine revelation (Quran) and the saying and actions (Sunnah) of Prophet Mohammad (s) for guidance on moral, ethical and personal issues, when faced with solving personal issues or dilemmas in the contemporary world.
One size fits all approach in providing guidance by Islamic Scholars or religious authorities may be problematic. Therefore, it may be prudent to ask what would the Prophet’s (s), advise on issues that are highly personal and contextual given the circumstances at the time. For example, use of a name that is more conducive to self-improvement and gaining better employment may be preferable for Muslims as long as Islamic principles are upheld as well.
Islam encourages naming with good optimistic names that do not conflict with Islamic principles. If something is not classified as haram (prohibited) then it is halal (permitted).
Retaining a name that does not identify itself with or contain anything Islamically forbidden may be permissible. It is according to sunnah (the examples of the Prophet’s life what he said, did, implemented, how he implemented), to change a bad name (whether it is an Arabic name or any other language) immediately, and it is permissible according to sunnah to exchange a name for a better one.
Therefore, Muslims have a responsibility to the Sunnah of the Prophet, where they are encouraged to choose the best of names given under the circumstances.
The Prophet had people with the names Abdul-Ka’bah and Abdul-Uzzah change their names upon accepting Islam. If the original name does not comprise or imply anything forbidden in Islam, then he or she is permitted to retain it (such as the name John, George or Rose for example). However, it is always preferable to change to an Islamic name if it is more beneficial to do so.
Muslim names can be from any country of origin as long as it has a good meaning behind it. Since Islam is spreading in the West, if a European has a name like John Smith or Justin Green, that wouldn’t be a problem because the meaning is good but the language is different.
However, for Muslims living in the West it may be advisable to name children with names that can be translated to Arabic like names such as Sarah, Maria, Adam etc.
Whilst the term, ‘When in Rome do as the Romans do’ may be seen as undesirable by some, the Prophet (s) has subscribed to the view of moderation and obeying the existing laws and customs of the land, as long as Islamic principles are also upheld. The prophet (s) always lead by example and obeyed the divine revelation of ‘There is no compulsion in religion’ (Quran, 2:256).
Moreover, given the large population of Muslims living in religiously diverse nations such as Australia, Canada, France, and UK, simply appearing to be Muslim by name should be contrasted with benefits of reaching a higher level of consciousness and spirituality in Islam, especially in a contemporary modern political environment where Islamophobia is prevalent in certain sections of society.\